News » Bear Update

Mother bear count shows a high-cub year



On May 16, the first observation of a mother with cubs-of-the-year (born Jan. 2012) in the ski area was made on Blackcomb during the 6 p.m. bear viewing trip. Michelle, a young female, who had previously bred in 2009 and 2010 with no success, likely due to her young age combined with poor berries, finally produced two black cubs this winter.

This is the first time I have seen her with cubs and she is showing all the telltale signs of a first-time mom — neurotic, paranoid, indecisive, and short-tempered — all the makings of a good nurturing, protective bear mom. Already she's had to deal with a coyote, a young male bear, and grumpy old Marisa. But Marisa, I'm thinking, is her mother.

Of the 17 females resident to the ski area, eight have been identified and nine still are unseen. And because they have not been re-sighted, I'm guessing some may have cubs.

Brownie has three brown cubs-of-the-year and has been sighted many times still in the valley. She moved into the valley because of snow covering grass/clover along ski trails. During my 16th annual visit to the elementary schools, one student showed me a picture of a black mother with three black cubs that was confirmed, and there have been a few reports of a black mother with two black cubs.

It's actually nice to see the evolution of the young generation's knowledge of bears — after years of progressive bear education the kids frequently report detailed sightings of bears and their descriptions. It's nice to know I've created lots of "eyes" out there now taking in bear information.

So, Whistler Valley has at least two mothers with three cubs each, and possibly a third with two cubs. With Michelle's two cubs and potential mothers to be seen, we could actually be in for a high-cub year of 16+ cubs. I predicted many cubs this year because of the actual decline in the population. When numbers go down, competition for food sources (berries) goes down. I imagine it's much easier for bears to live successfully at a lower density than it is at a higher, competitive density.

Despite Whistler's high bear mortalities during the 18 years I have been here, the population has always maintained a high density due to cub production and higher survival rates for females than males. Another three mothers, still with two yearlings (2011 cubs) each: two along Highway 99 south of Function and one at the Chateau Golf Course should be chasing off their yearlings during the next two to four weeks, as the breeding season begins anytime now until late July.

These mothers will breed this spring to potentially have cubs next winter. All six yearlings are small because of less weight gain, so they will have a challenging time surviving. But even small bears are tough and with all the skills and knowledge passed on by mom survival is reasonable.

Daughters have an edge over sons because mothers will tolerate their daughters, not close but nearby, thus daughters benefit by continuing to use feeding sites in familiar habitat. Sons get the short-end of the stick; mothers will become aggressive to sons when detecting them close. Mothers try to continually push sons from their breeding range to prevent inbreeding and future aggression toward her cubs, or her daughter's (sister's) cubs. Mothers need to push sons away now when they are smaller rather than three years later when the son is already heavier than its mother. Males grow fast to two or three times the size of females.

The continuing bear count (minimum) from Green Lake to Alice Lake turn-off is 67 black bears including offspring: 39 bears in Whistler, 17 bears along Highway 99 from the overpass/rail crossing below Function Junction to Alice Lake turn-off, and 11 bears along the 9km Callaghan Road.

I'm not the official number to report bear activity to, but sightings of bear families or any unusual behavior helps guide my efforts Contact me at

Report sightings of bears in garbage to 1-877-952-7277 or cell *7277.